Questionable Standards

After I read Liss' post on Coded Misogyny and Institutional Prejudice, I had a million and one thoughts bouncing around in my head about how her insights could be applied to financial systems (Capitalism/Masculine Socialism/Feminine), national defense strategies (Imperialism/Masculine Nationalism/Feminine), politics (Conservative Daddies and Liberal Mommies), and many, many other arenas -- then something popped out at me.

In systems where kyriarchal assumptions become the default standard against which everything else is measured, there seems to me to be a consistent feature:

The standard doesn't have to be met by its own adherents -- only those challenging the standard have to meet or exceed it.

An example:

STANDARD: Functional financial systems produce escalating wealth and opportunity in a way that is sustainable long term, and everyone knows that USofA-style free-market Capitalism is the Best! Possible! Financial System! In the World!!! Everyone can pull themselves up by their own bootstraps!!

Don't you just know this is true? I hear it all the time -- from adherents of the kyriarchy.

Never mind that the original U.S financial system was not a true free-market capitalist system -- that it was initially made possible by a massive theft/co-option of property and developed through slave labor.

Never mind that, in its entire history, the longest period that the U.S. has been without a financial panic, recession, or depression is 10 years (and that's fairly recent, between 1991 and 2001 -- the average time between any panic/recession/depression in U.S. history is just 2 years and 8 months).

In the 236 years that the USofA has been a nation, it's spent a full third of that time -- 77.5 years -- in varying states of economic panic, recession or depression.

Don't get me wrong -- I'm not saying that Capitalism is the worst economic system, or even necessarily a “bad” system -- but if you bought a car that was advertised as the Best! Possible! Car! in the World!!! -- and every third day it would only drive in reverse -- wouldn't you begin to question the quality claims?

So, why aren't we allowed to rationally assess the real sustainability and efficacy of Capitalism without being demonized as Anarchists, Socialists, or Communists?

Because the kyriarchy doesn't have to prove itself to you -- you have to prove yourself to it.

Another example:

STANDARD: According to the Daddy Party, traditional family values are very, very important, fiscal conservatism is a must, and corruption in government has to go!

[Insert here myriad stories of Daddy Party members engaging in anti-family-values activities such as hiring prostitutes, having (and conspiring to cover up) extra-marital affairs, expanding the deficit every time they've been in power since 1980, and being found guilty of money-laundering, conspiracy, voter fraud, etc. -- all without being kicked out of the party that espouses the values listed above.]

In fact, the one thing that seemingly will get you kicked out of the Daddy Party is acting too much like a member of the Mommy Party -- then you become a RINO.

So why aren't we allowed to objectively assess, and call to account, the chasm between statement and practice vis-a-vis conservative values without being accused of being dangerous, radical liberals?

Because the kyriarchy doesn't have to prove itself to you -- you have to prove yourself to it.

Another example:

STANDARD: Single-paired heterosexuality is "natural" and "normal". All other forms of sexuality are not normal.

Despite the fact that recorded human history is full of people who were not heterosexual -- despite the fact that the vast majority of those who identify as heterosexual are not single-paired for a lifetime in terms of sexual interactions -- despite the fact that queers of all varieties have been shown again and again to be "normal" in other respects (not that I consider that a good thing, necessarily, given what passes for normal in this society) -- being queer is still considered, well . . . queer. Abnormal. Deviant -- in all its shades of meaning, from the purely statistical to the moral/judgmental.

Why doesn't the collective presence of queers throughout history, the presence of verifiable clinical data, and the evidence of our own experience make a bigger dent in this standard?

Well -- you know . . .

I could go on and on with these examples, but . . . . enough already.

I want to draw attention to something in that last bit, though -- about the evidence of our own experience.

How many times have you found yourself bumping up against internalized oppression based on these standards, and subjugating yourself to them, despite your own experience that they were inaccurate or flawed?

As a person who is fat, I experience the health and strength of my portly form directly -- I have a visceral, intimate sense of my own vitality every single day, and have verifiable physical evidence that I’ve enjoyed far better health at my current weight than when I was thin -- but within me, I know I still harbor voices that tell me that I am wrong/bad for being fat.

I've spent a lot of time and energy arguing with those voices, and I wonder why I still sometimes allow them to trump my own actual life experience as an authority.

I think this may be one of the most insidious thing about kyriarchal standards -- their potential to get inside our heads and encourage us to stop thinking and feeling for ourselves.

These are the assumptions that we're soaking in, and challenging them is considered dangerous by adherents of the kyriarchy.

My experience has been that I assume that it's dangerous to challenge them, too, at some level.

I notice that, usually, as I muster up my courage to confront sexism, or racism, or homophobia, or ableism, or fat-phobia, or, or, or . . . . my palms get sweaty and the butterflies start up in my stomach.

In most cases, I also find myself assessing the person(s) I'm about to confront -- "Will it make any difference? Are they simply unconscious, but still teachable? How entrenched are they in the standard I'm about to challenge?"

Essentially, I'm asking myself: "Is it worth the risk of speaking up?" -- and that tells me that I have been successfully programmed to the concept that confronting the kyriarchy is risky.

The baffling thing is that, while many (if not most) of these standards can't hold up to the light of objective examination, and so many of them prove untrue in our direct personal and collective experience (turns out letting queers wed doesn't undermine the institution of marriage, and the human race did not die out because women stopped having children when they got the vote), the kyriarchy seems completely unembarrassed about having been so spectacularly wrong.

How often have you seen the kyriarchy successfully challenged on its own terms – with evidence and studies that adhere to the male-coded qualities of rational, scientific research – only to have the kyriarchy wave it away dismissively or simply skim to a new rationalization/justification to defend the standard?

[TW for discussion of rape culture]

Here’s a glaring example: The statistic that 1 out of every 6 women is a survivor of an attempted or completed rape at some point in their lives is not some magical claim that flew out of a unicorn’s butt – it comes from an agency within the kyriarchy itself:

(My personal experience, and the experience of the women I know, tells me that this statistic is probably very conservative – but for the moment, let’s just go with their figures.)

Now -- think about how many times you’ve argued with a rape-culture denier – when you’ve pointed out these figures, or highlighted that this statistic is about rape only and doesn’t even touch on other forms of sexual threat and harassment towards women – and then you’ve received responses like these:

• Well, those are subjective reports! (dismissal relying on another assumption/standard -- women can’t be trusted)
• But men are more often victims of murder! (skim away)
• Hey! Men are raped too! (straw-person attempt at justification/skim away)
• Women can just accuse someone! (see #1)
• Yes, there are some bad apples, but there is no such thing as a rape culture. (dismissal)

(As a side note: I think that one of the reasons that the denial of rape culture is so strong is that it’s a key strand in a particularly complex and nasty basket – if you pull on that one, all sorts of other cultural tropes -- about men as the noble protectors of delicate womanhood, and equal opportunity, and shared power, and a host of other assumptions and standards -- begin to come unraveled.)

And yet another example (honestly, sometimes I wish these weren’t so easy to find):

When a person who fits the preferred kyriarchal profile of straight, white, male becomes wealthy, powerful, or popular, it’s assumed that their success is due to how well the various systems and standards of the kyriarchy work.

However, when a person of color, or a woman, or a disabled person, or a transperson, or a queer, or, or, or . . . actually succeeds on the kyriarchy’s own terms – say they amass great wealth, or attain a position of power, or develop a widespread audience – how often do you hear criticisms of them that imply that they must have “cheated” in some way?

Obama, born in Hawaii, needs to provide a birth certificate -- but McCain, born in Panama, does not.

Oprah Winfrey’s business acumen has clearly resulted in “success” by kyriarchal standards, but I often see coded misogyny in the criticisms of how she got there – the very fact that her audience and message are coded feminine seems to make her suspect. The coded misogyny seems to extend to men who pitch primarily to women, too. Dr. Phil is the second highest-earning talk-show host after Oprah -- but compare the attitudes you hear expressed about the value of these two shows as compared to what you hear about Letterman (the third highest earner).

Hillary Clinton wouldn’t be where she was unless she’d been married to a U.S. President, right?

Also, it’s often assumed that a person outside the preferred profile has only succeeded because of their difference, rather than in spite of it (just another lovely feature of tokenism).

I bring these examples up because they demonstrate again how the kyriarchy does not seem to feel obliged to adhere to its own standards. The USian myth that anyone can succeed, as long as they follow the formula of Hard Work! Clean Living! Moral Standards! is exploded by its own adherents over and over as they succeed in spite of poor work ethic, libertine behavior, and glaring moral hypocrisy. It’s exploded yet again when outsiders follow the formula but don’t succeed, or succeed and are then discounted.

It’s the old saw: A woman [you could insert any other “other” there] has to be twice as good as a man [insert “straight” “white”, etc.] to go half as far.

All of this is essentially about unearned privilege, and double-standards, yes – but it actually goes beyond just a double-standard, I think – it’s really a one-way standard – one that bristles and growls when you dare to challenge its validity.

So, where am I going with all this?

I’m going here >>> I’m currently using these three features of the Kyriarchy . . .

1. Doesn’t have to live up to its own standards, requires that all others do so.
2. Claims these standards as Universal Truth, despite clinical and experiential evidence to the contrary.
3. Gets cranky and threatening (and often, eliminationist) when standards are challenged.

. . . to examine attitudes and beliefs inside myself for hints of internalized oppression.

An example from my own life – a standard that I absorbed fully and still wrestle with:

Formal Traditional Education=Intelligence

As the daughter of two school teachers, I got the full spa-treatment with this one – it was soaked, scrubbed, and polished into me, at home as well as in the wider world, and I didn’t begin to question it within myself at all until I was well into my thirties.

I knew one of my best friends for nearly ten years before she revealed that she had quit school at fourteen and had no GED. Her mom was pretty much absent for a number of reasons, and there were four young brothers who needed care and supervision. My friend is brilliant – a gifted writer, thinker, and business woman -- and I said something asinine in response, like: “Really? I would never have known that – you’re so smart!” (Oy! It’s one of those moments that makes me want to curl up and die of shame when I think back on it.)

But do you see what happened there?

When the standard I had absorbed was challenged by my direct experience of my dear friend’s rapier wit (which brings me to tearful laughter on a nearly daily basis), penetrating mind (which I have marveled at in long, late conversations on myriad subjects), and success as an entrepreneur, and I experienced that “Zuh?” moment -- I didn’t stop and question the validity of the standard – instead, I dismissed her as an anomaly to it.

Of course, questioning and challenging this internalized entrainment can be a dicey business, according to the kyriarchy – because if Education !=Intelligence, then I begin questioning all sorts of other assumptions about what Intelligence is at all.

Is another friend whose grammar sucks (according to the standard), but who is able to instantly see connections that I miss, more “intelligent” than I am? Does my friend who simply says “I don’t read”, but who takes photographs of astounding beauty and fucking invents and builds impossibly weird, complex, and gorgeous stringed instruments, “intelligent”? Is my friend’s autistic, nonverbal son being “intelligent” when he’s effortlessly cutting a perfect freehand spiral from a sheet of paper in seconds?

This is why the kyriarchy hates being confronted. This is how the basket unravels.

I believe that we must unravel it, because the stereotypes arise from the institutional standards, not the other way around.

I often find that there is much more support for the confrontation of individual stereotypes than for thorough assessment and critique of the nasty basket from which they spring, even within communities of self-identified social justice activists.

Write a blogpost descrying a specific comment that accuses the unemployed of being lazy, and you’re likely to get a pat on the back and big huzzah – write one about how frequent swings in employment levels may indicate that Capitalism itself is an inherently-flawed economic system? – you are ZOMG RADICAL!!11!!1!!

Pen an article about the injustice of a specific rape case where “she was asking for it” tropes are trotted out, and at least some other progressives will applaud you – begin a series about how rape is institutionalized as Rape Culture, and point out how individual “jokes” and acceptance of those “jokes” promotes this institutionalized oppression, and you may find that those very same people tell you that you are being HYSTERICAL!!, and alarmist, and looking for trouble where it doesn’t exist – especially if you type that series with hands that happen to be attached to a woman’s body.

If you’re a queer speaking out about the false standard of hetero-normity, or a person of color speaking out about the false standard of white supremacy, or person with a disability speaking out about the false standard of able-mind/bodiedness – well, of course you’d speak out that way – you have an agenda. If you’re not a member of the marginalized group, but you speak out about these things, you’re being “politically correct”, or you’re “brain-washed” or part of an “echo chamber”.

The kyriarchy has a bazillion and one strategies to discourage true inquest into its baseline assumptions and standards -- that’s a feature, not a bug.

The one time I was absolutely believed that I was at real risk during an interaction with police was stimulated by the bumper sticker on a friend’s van. The cop who was pointing a gun at me even nodded toward it when I asked why he was treating us the way he was.

The bumper-sticker read: “Question Authority”.

I recommend it highly.

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